Is Curly Hair Professional?

Pictured: Curls 1/27/09, originally uploaded to Flickr by dianecordell.Is curly hair professional enough for interviews? Reader R writes in to ask the question, which has come up a ton of times in comments but hasn’t been discussed directly. So let’s talk about it. First, her Q:

I am 23 and interviewing for a new position. I have the suit/shoes/accessories combo set for interviews, but my problem is my hair. I have very curly (shoulder length)hair, which is made more curly because I live in the very hot, humid South. I do have any frizz under control (with a veritable arsenal of hair products), but I have had trouble deciding exactly what to do with my hair on interview. I have worn my hair both straight and curly for interviews in the past, but it takes forever to blow my hair out, and it seems like my potential new bosses should see me the way I will really look when I come to work everyday. What do you think?

This question hits near and dear to my heart because, as I’ve mentioned a few times, the older I get, the curlier/wavier my hair gets. For my $.02: There is nothing unprofessional about curly hair. It looks beautiful, and a lot of strong, professional women I know (whose style I envy!) in fact have long curls. Furthermore, I strongly believe that it takes more time and energy to FIGHT your hair’s natural texture than it does to work with it — time that, frankly, is better spent elsewhere for most women.  (Pictured: Curls 1/27/09, originally uploaded to Flickr by dianecordell.)

That said, I think a few facets of The Curly Life give women pause as to its professionalism. A lot of these are personal observations, so I’m curious to hear what my fellow curly girls will say.


a) Wet hair is not professional. My curls/waves look best if they airdry. Which means that either I have to be up and out of the shower about an hour and a half before leaving for the destination, or I show up with slightly wet hair (depending how cooperative the commute is). Most women would agree that wet hair is not professional. So if you’re going anywhere important — certainly to court, a big meeting, or an interview, or even just for your regular office look — your hair should be dry.

b) Personally, my curls are unpredictable, which means that for me I would not rely on them for an interview. Some days I’ll come out of the shower — having used the same products I used the day before, the same drying techniques I’ve used before — but something in the air that day makes them dry beautifully. And I feel like a million bucks on those days! Other days I’ll repeat the exact same techniques and come out looking like a frizzy-haired mess. I’m still working out the kinks (ha ha) to my system, but for now if I have anything important going on then I’ll probably get a professional blow-out or flatiron my hair (which is so, so much worse for your hair than a blow-out). Pulling your hair back is another option.  I totally envy those curly girls who have their systems down pat — my own curly hair system has gotten a lot better over the past year or so but it still needs tweaking.  (I’d say what I’m doing now, but it wouldn’t be a complete discussion without a list of the things that I’ve tried and rejected, which would take too long and, I suspect, not be that interesting for anyone but me!)

c)  Next-day curls are something unto themselves. This doesn’t relate to professionalism, but it does factor into time (and is one of the reasons why I will spend more time in the winter to blowdry my hair).  I’ve tried a number of products designed to “perk up” next day curls, but they all offend me in some manner — either they smell too much, they make my hair too crunchy, or they make my hair LOOK too crunchy or wet (just a spritzer filled with water seems to work best for me if I try anything).  So in the winter, when it takes forever for my curls to dry and the air is fairly dry anyway, I will spend 5-10 minutes trying to blowdry my hair straight, which is all I generally have patience for.  (I do find that anti-frizz treatments help tremendously, specifically John Frieda Frizz-Ease Hair Serum, Extra Strength Formula or Lotus Shield Frizz Control Anti-Frizz Treatment.  I’m looking forward to trying the reader-recommended John Frieda Frizz-Ease 3-Day Straight Semi-Permanent Styling Spray this fall.)  This past winter it was really easy to ride that one blowout for 2 or 3 days because I wasn’t working out (I was way too nauseous and exhausted from December to February anyway) and when I started working out again I was primarily doing workouts that didn’t work up quite a sweat… I’ll be curious to see how it goes this winter when I return to more rigorous workouts like running and my beloved Jari Love/Jillian Michaels/The FIRM DVDs.  (For the record you can run well into your pregnancy — one rockstar friend ran up 5-10K daily up to her 8th month! — but one of the first pregnancy symptoms that hit me was a real lack of lung capacity, so running was really uncomfortable.  Aerobic DVDs aren’t generally encouraged because your balance is off and your risk of falling is greater.)

Those are actually the most negative things I can come up with for curly hair — so if Reader R has her system down better than mine, I encourage her to go to the interview with her regular curly hair.  Readers, what are your thoughts on the professionalism of curly hair?  Does anyone think that curly hair, in and of itself, is NOT professional — and if so why?  For those of you with curly hair, what are your best tips for getting it consistently styled?


  1. I was going to type up a fiery, snarky comment, but really, the fact that this topic even needs to be discussed just makes me sad. And I’m not denying that it needs to be discussed; the reason why I’m sad is that in 2011, women still find ourselves being judged based on our natural hairstyle rather than our resume.

    • Completely agree.

      • Formerly Preggo Angie :


        • For me it’s more the fact that this subject has been discussed multiple times in multiple places, but on this board especially. Search, people, search! Let’s not recycle this issue!

          • Ms. Basil E. Frankweiler :

            I am not the OP, but felt the need to comment. Yes, there is a search box, but now that Kat has switched to Lijit you can only search the posts, not the comments. And I’ve also tried the Google site search, but that has never worked for me. So rather than go through every single post and its comments, it may just be easier to ask if someone else remembers the exact thread or can give some new advice.

          • Updates never hoyt. :-)

    • Betty White :

      Not to be snarky, but I do think there’s a limit to the amount of issues that can be discussed on a given blog.

      Also agree that natural hair should not be considered unprofessional.

      • I think in most cases “natural” hair IS unprofessional (I read “natural” to mean that you haven’t done anything to it). curly or straight alike, few people look put together when they are “wash and go”

        • That was kind of my interpretation, too. I don’t have curly hair, but it’s got a little bit of wave to it and looks pretty rough without some work. (for big deal events like an interview, I either wear it up or straighten it with a blow dryer and round brush, and a lot of product.) I wouldn’t be interview-quality presentable without make up, either, IMO (not that some women aren’t fine without make up, I’m just not one of them). We’re all expected to put some effort into our appearence for an interview, it’s just a question of how much and to what extent.

          • Betty White :

            What I meant, as Eponine said below, was that naturally curly hair is not per se unprofessional. Not styling your hair is one thing, but having curly hair is not unprofessional. Just make sure it looks put together. And the idea of curly hair being unprofessional is, I think, a very white-centric view–reminds me of how many women of color have been told for years that natural “black hair” is somehow not up to snuff because of our white-woman-based standards of beauty.

        • This is not what most non-white and curly-haired women mean by natural hair. It means hair with its natural texture, not totally unstyled hair.

          • Yeah. What they are referring to as “natural” hair, most nonwhite women would assume meant “just rolled out of bed.”

    • I have naturally curly hair and my boyfriend loves it.

    • I actually think that the straight/curly thing is at least partly trend driven. Having grown up and gone to college in the 80s, I still remember when all the girls (myself included) coveted curly hair and did some very serious damage to our hair through perming to achieve waveage. And back then, the most iconic cinematic women all had wonderful curly hair, including both Sigourney and Melanie in Working Girls. So in my mind, professional has always included curly. Yes, we’ve now gone through a long stretch where straight has reigned, but who knows, maybe the teens will be the decade of the curl.

      • wow – thinking back, I’m realizing that there are so many examples:

        Meg Ryan in Harry Met Sally
        Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing
        Molly Ringwald in everything
        Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest and Barbara Hershey in Hannah and her Sisters
        Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham
        Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction
        Kelly McGillis in Top Gun and The Accused
        Linda Hamilton in Terminator

        • Curl Friend :

          I don’t recall any of them having very curly hair; a bit wavy, perhaps. There is a world of difference between having somewhat curly hair and the kind of hair that could be worn in an Afro or Isro.

          I haven’t seen Working Girl in a while, but as I recall, Melanie’s character had big, out of control curly hair when she is an outsider. She becomes sleek in all ways once she begins to succeed.

          BTW, the Hollywood convention of showing the evolution of a woman character from a nerdy, frizzy headed, bespectacled brunet to a sleek blonde is so common I’ve read several articles analyzing it.

    • Completely agree. I have a friend whose hair is wildly, beautifully curly. She can look fabulous diving into a lake, hanging out at a party, or at an interview. I happen to have straight hair. I personally think I look pretty dang good too, in any of these situations. Either of us, based only on our resumes, could get any minor job we wanted, and most major jobs. But because of the way we look, either she will get picked because she’s naturally stunning from the get-go, or I will get picked because I’m naturally professional-looking. (Not a bad thing. I’m quite good-looking, IMO, and lots of people would love to look as put-together as automatically as I do. My beauty is unique to me, as hers is unique to her. Hers is more wild and free, sort of like a horse running through a field, while mine is very reserved and contained, like a lioness resting before a hunt. Both very beautiful animals. We’re both very beautiful people.) It stinks, because we end up being judged, positively or negatively, because people tend to prefer one kind of beauty over another, and the other equally though uniquely beautiful person is left out in the cold. :/

      PS: Love your name, Eponine ;)

      • I know that there are different kinds of beauty, but if your curly haired friend still isn’t considered professional looking when her hair is styled or pulled back in a ponytail, I’d say that speaks to a much broader cultural problem.

        Curly haired women who are seeking professional styles are doing their bit. The rest is up to others.

        • Nobody on earth looks professional when their hair is pulled back in a pony-tail, it just looks lazy. I spend a fair bit of time each day making my hair look good and I would never think to put it in a pony-tail in a professional setting.

          • Ponytails can look professional. I also don’t think that wanting to devote more time to one’s work or life instead of one’s hairstyle is a sign of “laz[iness]”.

  2. @marginfades :

    “(I’d say what I’m doing now, but it wouldn’t be a complete discussion without a list of the things that I’ve tried and rejected, which would take too long and, I suspect, not be that interesting for anyone but me!)”
    Embracing my own curls for the workplace is a work in progress – kudos to you for continuing in yours! It’s definitely not easy.

    “(I’d say what I’m doing now, but it wouldn’t be a complete discussion without a list of the things that I’ve tried and rejected, which would take too long and, I suspect, not be that interesting for anyone but me!)”

    As a fellow curly-haired professional who’s picked up many a professional wardrobe idea from Corporette, I heartily disagree – I’m always on the lookout for not only what works for others, but what doesn’t. Please consider this an open invitation to post your present (and former/failed) curly routines, complete with pictures (especially back of the head views!) and products.

    I’d certainly appreciate it if you would, as would fellow curly-haired professionals!

    • No shampoo with sulfates ever and Bumble and Bumble Curl Conscious Creme works for my coarse, thick curls. I use an organic shampoo and conditioner from Trader Joe’s at the moment and only shampoo every other day or so (I teach yoga and often end up working out twice in one day, so sometimes I have to shampoo more often due to sweat).

      I usually wash at night and pull back during the day in hot weather, and I use Garnier Fructis Smooth and Shine anti-humidity smoothing milk and hairspray to keep frizz and flyaways to a minimum.

      When I wear my hair down, I use the “plopping” method advocated on NaturallyCurly dot com. I wash and/or condition my hair, add styling cream, then I place a very soft t-shirt on my bed, flip my head over, make sure my hair is hanging directly below my head, then place my head on the shirt and tie it in a turban. I usually leave it for at least half an hour, sometimes as long as 2 hours. This sets the curls nicely. Then I either blowdry or air dry (doesn’t seem to make much of a difference for me), add smoothing milk or hairspray if it’s humid, and go.

      Needless to say, having to spend at least an hour on my curls in order to wear them down means I usually have my hair up at the office. Shorter hair is much easier for me, but I love it long, especially now that I’m middle aged.

    • Fine, curly hair. Here’s what works for me (most of the time, anyway). Also, highly recommend visiting naturallycurlydotcome for more info about curly hair than you’ll ever need to know!

      1. Wash with a light conditioner. I shampoo sometimes but it dries out my hair.

      2. Use a very light mouse (I just have a cheap one from the drugstore, after spending lots of money on expensive stuff and never seeing any results)

      3. Leave your hair alone after you put in your product! Get dressed, eat breakfast, wear makeup, and don’t touch your hair at all. For me, this is absolutely key.

      4. Scrunch out my hair to remove the “crunch/wet look”

      5. Sometimes use a diffuser to give hair more volume

      • @marginfades :

        My own regimen: My hair gets washed often (daily during the summer) to exfoliate and moisturize the scalp.

        With a horn comb (for fewer tears to the hair), I untangle before I wash. My shampoo is no-poo – either a sulfate-free one from the drug store, or baking soda* chased by apple cider vinegar. (*This is beneficial for scalp exfoliation.)

        Post-wash, I wrap my hair in a microfiber towel or old T-shirt. With a fine-tipped bottle, I’ll form parts across my scalp, applying almond oil. I lightly massage the oil across the scalp, and work through whatever remains out through my hair, and “wipe” any residual oil on ends of my hair.

        Then, I finger-comb out my hair, and “plop” with (drug-store brand) mousse. I spray just a bit of hairspray on a child’s toothbrush to tame flyaways on my part and hairline.

        With a consistent routine of exfoliating / moisturizing, I find that frizz is much less of an issue (even in hot and humid Houston) – it’s a matter of keeping the curls consistently moisturized, as another commenter noted elsewhere in the comments. To keep the curls formed, I’ll keep a spray bottle with water on hand at my desk, and reform individual curls during the day, if needed.

        If I’m doing next-day hair (i.e. not washing again), I’ll apply dry shampoo (drug store brand), loosely organize my curls (“pineapple”) and cover them with a cloth (not plastic) shower cap. In the morning, I take a spray bottle to the curls, individual smoothing them out by hand. For the non-curly top of my head, I’ll smooth out any uneven strands with either hairspray or just a bit of almond oil.

        Otherwize, I try to apply almond oil over night, to moisturize, then wash (lather, rinse, repeat!) in the AM.

        It sounds like a complicated regimen – but it’s far simpler for me to do this than to try to straighten my hair. Even a single blow-out wreaks havoc on my hair, and I’d have to do them daily (to care for my scalp). Like any other process, this becomes rote by repetition – and I’m quite pleased with it.

        Glad to read everyone’s suggestions. Thanks for posting them!

        I’d also love to see pictures of people’s professional, curly styles. Kat, is there any way we could post them here?

        • @marginfades :

          Oh – and I should mention: one I figured out that I do, in fact, have curly hair – I totally fell in love with it, and rock it. I rock my curls (and next-day waves) on a daily basis – at work, and at play. Curls are hard to figure out and manage – and my sincere hope is that everyone who wants to wear them in a professional way can find a regimen that allows you to do so.

        • @marginfades :

          CORRECTION: I wash my hair with no-poo (sulfate-free) *conditioner*, eschewing the shampoo.

    • Hear! Hear! Please do share. I think I’ve tried everything on the market and cannot find the magic combination.

      • I don’t remember when I first discovered my perfect combination, but here it is: I shower (using shampoo and conditioner, switching to a different brand every couple of weeks, doesn’t seem to matter what brand I use), comb my hair, put a quarter-sized amount of gel in my hair, flip it back and forth a couple times (up and down? sort of like head-banging), repeat, put a little extra on the ends, and then drive to work for 45 minutes on the highway with the window down. Sounds crazy, but my hair looks A-MA-ZING by the time I get to work and I get loads of compliments. If it gets too big, I’ll put it half up/half down or I’ll pull it into a ponytail with some curls loose and framing my face.

        The one big thing I’ve noticed is that I need to switch out products frequently. No idea why, but I can’t use the same things for more than 2 days in a row or it starts looking limp and/or frizzy.

    • Curl Friend :

      Can’t let myself give into the temptation to discuss all the things that haven’t worked. They are legion.

      These days, I’ve been getting a lot of compliments on my haircut from Devachan (Jackie is my stylist) and my use of Devacurl products. I used to think that using nonsulfates and avoiding silicones was a gimmick, but if you have fragile hair and have to slather these products on it, it may make a difference.

      It helps if I comb my hair with my fingers, which Devachan recommended a couple of years ago, but I couldn’t be bothered. I use a Curlease or microfiber towel. I tried the “Plop” method, described on (good site), but it didn’t provide enough control for me.

      My routine, based on the new edition of “Curly Girl: The Handbook, ” which is available for about $8 on Amazon:

      –I put some One Condition on the canopy of my hair before getting in the shower.

      –I wet my hair and initially detangle it, and then wash it with No Poo (a creamy cleanser) or One Condition.

      –I thoroughly rinse my hair.

      –I apply at least four pumps of One Condition, spread it through my hair and then comb my hair with my fingers. This takes at least five minutes, but has gotten faster with time and practice.

      –I finish bathing, then get out of the shower. The One Condition has been thoroughly absorbed (I have very thick, 3c/4a African American hair).

      –After applying body lotion, etc., I take a non-abrasive (no terrycloth) towel and gently scrunch and squeeze my hair in sections to remove some moisture.

      –I let my hair air dry. At Devachan, they put me under a helmet dryer. I bought one a few years ago, but can’t find it. On cold winter days, that’s the solution, although I’m not crazy about dryers.

      There are some days when I’ll have to resort to a ponytail. I also like to use Spin Pins, which were discussed in this space a few weeks ago.

      It’s not wash-and-wear hair, but I like the idea of no longer being dependent on expensive, noxious chemical straightening treatments that at best make my hair look like ersatz straight hair and at worst could cause injury. No matter how gentle a relaxer I got, it ultimately killed the texture of my hair.

      I also like the idea of trying to create a new “normal.” I cannot believe the crap I read about the supposed connotations of curly hair, much of which is carefully coded racism.

      Oh, and Virginia Heffernan of the New York Times: In wearing my hair curly, I’m not letting my “freak flag fly.” I’m merely trying to get out of the house in a presentable, professional manner, just like you.

      The New York Times has a real attitude problem when it comes to curly hair. Here are some links. Just last month, there was a story with a headline that said something like “Natural Hair Needs a Lot of Help” (and straight, chemically blonded hair doesn’t?).

      Gimme Hair Flying Straight and Free


      Splitting Hairs


      • Am I the only one who hated Devachan products? They are the water-based ones, right? They left my hair so crunchy and didn’t provide any curl definition at all.

        • Curl Friend :

          I’ve never had that problem, unless I’ve really been heavy handed with the conditioner, which I leave in, after having thoroughly cleansed my hair. In fact, I haven’t had to use gel, which, in the past sauna-like weather, has been impressive.

          I believe the co. describes its products as “botanical,” which I assume means they have more or less natural herbal ingredients. The One Condition and No Poo smell great, very fresh and clean.

        • @marginfades :

          I started out with Devachan products, and honestly – I’m not a huge fan. I don’t have the bottles now, but I discovered they weren’t really no-poo after all (they still contained -cones, I think – which don’t do nice things for my hair’s frizziness.)

          My understanding is that they’ve changed their formulation, but I haven’t tried it yet. Has anyone else?

          • Curl Friend :

            I wish they’d change the names. Every time I recommend “No Poo” or “Low Poo,” it’s an affront to my dignity.

            Can’t speak to any change in formulae.

      • Seattle Lawyer Mom :

        I don’t think that’s the point Virginia Heffernan was making. I think she was commenting on the interesting cultural phenomenons of blogs/websites dedicated to one particular topic. The “freak flag frying” line appears to be a quote from the blog all about curly hair. (As disclaimer, I went to college with Virginia.)

        I have straight hair myself, but low and behold my three-year-old daughter has the most delicious little soft baby hair curls. Love love love them. Can’t keep my fingers out of her hair after she has a bath.

        • Curl Friend :

          I think she spent very little time actually reading the blog and her tone was extremely dismissive.

          She should have picked another topic.

        • Curl Friend :

          Unfortunately, I’ve observed many instances of insensitivity in the New York Times towards any group that isn’t part of their imagined ideal readership. I know this well as a lifelong reader. It slips out in nasty ways. Here, not having straight hair and trying to find solutions makes you a figure of fun. I also don’t think it’s an accident that in her photos Heffernan has blond, straight hair. She simply doesn’t get it. She doesn’t understand the practical problems and the cultural implications of having this kind of hair, including the often implied racism in descriptions of such hair.

          Why is the assumption that having straight hair is “normal,” while having curly or kinky hair makes you an oddity or someone straining to make a statement? Even the positive stereotypes about frizzy-haired women being more independent are ridiculous. Why should it matter what kind of hair you have? Yet the fact that a young lawyer posed the question and that there’s been a good deal of discussion in this thread demonstrates that it still does.

          Maybe next time, she should cover a website on men who sport novelty beards. It’s a bona fide trend, I saw a promo for competition on cable.

          Incidentally, the “Curly Girl Book: The Handbook” has an expanded section on hair care for kids. Both editions feature reminiscences by women who hated (or whose parents hated) their curly hair.

    • Research, not Law :

      Definitely try the sulfite-free, silicone-free route. It’s amazing.

      I actually use California Baby Super-Sensitive shampoo. Yep, baby shampoo. And I love it. Right now I’m using a Desert Essence (I think) Coconut conditioner. I use a long-tooth pick comb to get in the shampoo and stimulate my scalp. Doing a final rinse with cold water really helps with frizz. It takes the fun out of a shower, but it’s worth it. Then I comb while still dripping wet in the shower and never comb again for the day, except to part when dry.

      Aveda’s Be Curly products were the absolute best I ever found, but they give my husband migraines. I never found another product that I liked. So instead, I wear my hair natural the first day, up the next, and combed and down the third. By the third day, my hair is just smooth waves.

    • I am transitioning (over a year) so I still have to deal with 2 textures.
      I no-poo everyday because I go to gym quite often. I shampoo hair with normal shampoo every other week.
      I spritz morning and night with water, rosewater, glycerin and a bit of shea leave-in by beautiful curls.
      Sometimes when I am not too lazy I seal with aloe vera oil or carol’s daughter balm.
      On shampoo day, I use a denman brush to detangle and Matrix hydrating balm as deep conditioner.
      Sometimes I braid the front of my hair on weekends so it helps with the curl forming.

    • I wash my hair with usually whatever (sometimes Head & Shoulders [if scalp is feeling icky], sometimes Charles Worthington Moisturizing whatever [if hair is feeling sad]). The important bit is my conditioner, which is Inecto Pure Coconut conditioner. I started using it just because it smells so delicious and then realized it’s amazing for curly hair (first search hit is Naturally Curly). Anyway, I rinse that out about 75%. I put my hair in a towel for a bit and scrunch with Garnier Sleek & Shine leave-in conditioner as my only styling product and let it air dry.

      I put my hair up in a scrunchie at night. I only wash twice a week – curls will last me four days, straight lasts about three. And that’s with going to the gym 5-6x/week. My hair is a legend, it’s very good to me :)

  3. Another Anonymous :

    Curly hair is professional! Look at Justice Sotomayor–she manages to pull off curls while still acting as (arguably) one of the most powerful women in America.

    • SDOC has waves, too, and current DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz has long curly hair.

      • Oh, and my own “representative” Eleanor Holmes Norton rocks the teeny-weeny Afro.

        • She looks good, and is a formidable person. But short hair can make some women look asexual. When I was young, I had an afro in part because it was the current fashion, in part because my relaxers had broken off my hair in some places and it looked gross. In a restaurant, a woman once leaned towards my mother and complimented her on her handsome son.

          That was me.

          About a year or two later, I started growing my hair out again. I tried to do it without chemicals, but the method of caring for the hair and cutting and the products were not there. So I had to get a relaxer. When I used to go to black salons, they tried to make me look like a Supreme. They didn’t get that I didn’t want a high-maintenance look buttressed by stinky, sticky hairspray.

          White stylists thought I was from Mars.

          Thank God for some improvements in this area. Although really short hair would be the most practical, I don’t have the bone structure the body, or the bearing for really short hair. I would have to wear lots of makeup to look presentable and wear big earrings.

          Longer hair is more forgiving.

  4. hair that is neat, clean, non-distracting and out of the way is professional, whether it’s curly or straight or somewhere in between.

  5. I have curly hair and love it. I think I have straightened it a total of 3 times, and the last time was about 6 years ago. I just had an interview this past Friday in Big Law and wore it down, curly, as usual. I agree with Kat that curly hair is temperamental, and sometimes I have a great hair day and sometimes not. What generally works for me is letting it air dry for as long as possible. On the day of my interview, I washed my hair, put in some mousse, and then did not touch it for at least 2 hours. And voila ! Good hair day. Today, I did the same thing except that I only let it air dry for about 20 minutes. As a result, my hair is a frizzy, fly away mess. And now it’s in a ponytail as a result.

    • Yeah – I’ve attempted to straighten mine maybe 10 times in my life. I know some curly-haired women like the variety of being able to wear their hair either straight or curly, but I have never gotten it. It doesn’t stay straight; my hair yearns for curliness like flowers yearn for the sun. Plus, I don’t like attacking it with scalding hot metal.

      I will admit to being a bit jealous of the curly-haired women who can straighten their hair, put it up, and it lasts for four days or more. Mine would never cooperate with that – curls start popping back up by noon, and if I sleep on straight hair, it’s a snarled mess the next morning.

    • Curl Friend :

      The key, and it is tough, is to let it dry completely before touching it. Drying apparently sets the curl. If you can’t air dry it, try using a helmet dryer.

  6. I think curly hair can definitely be professional! As long as you stick with the “no wetness” strategy. In the case of an interview, though, I wonder if you can just pull your hair back and put it in a professional bun? That way you don’t have to worry about good hair days vs. bad hair days and you’ll look great.

    • Jules' Law :

      I have curly hair and I’m always super self conscious about pulling it back in a bun since my hair dresser so kindly told me once that it doesn’t look “nice” when people with curly hair pull their hair back so that you can see the “ridges.” Needless to say I do not go to that hair dresser any more – he made this comment to me on my wedding day. I can only really pull my hair back if I part it and sweep it back but my hair battles me every time.

      Meanwhile, does anyone have any recommendation for a product to put in curly hair after it’s dry that would give it some lift/hold throughout the day. My hair starts out great in the morning but then gets very limp as the day progresses and ends looking rather sad. I’m looking for something that will I guess give it volume without stiffness … it just seems weird to use a volumizer when my hair is so thick to begin with. I just don’t want it falling flat on my face by lunch time.

      • I am all over this thread… I would recommend Bumble and Bumble Curl Conscious Styling Creme, which you put in wet, not dry, hair. The version for fine curls is specifically designed to prevent limpness and keep your curls bouncy all day.

      • Devachan is another curl salon in New York, like Ouidad (but better, IMHO). They make a whole line of products that are just fantastic for curly hair. I started going years ago and it really has changed my style routine for the better. One of the products is called Set It Free, a spray that I spritz on (and then scrunch int0) my hair on days when I don’t wash it. It redefines the curls and gives them more bounce.

        • Curl Friend :

          I, too, prefer Devachan to Ouidad. I’ve been two both salons at least three times. No product works for everyone. The Devacurl products that I like are:

          One Condition
          No Poo
          Low Poo
          Arc AnGel

          The ones that were a “meh” for me are:

          Heaven in Hair
          Set It Free
          Set-Up and Above
          B’leave-in (leave in conditioner)
          Mist-er Right (Lavender Mist freshener)

          I bought their diffuser, which looks like a big green hand, but it didn’t fit on my blowdryer. They don’t even use it on me at their salon. They put me under the dryer. But then again, volume is the last thing I need.

          Wen cleansing conditioners, especially the fig variety, are good, but even more expensive.

      • That hairdresser is ridiculous. I don’t have curly hair but I think it looks really cool when women (or men, for that matter) have very tight curls that produces ridges when the hair is pulled back.

        • I agree. In fact, I tend to think it looks weird when a person has perfectly smooth hair on the head with very curly curls on the pulled back part. (If that makes any sense at all.)

        • I agree with Ru and completely disagree with that hairdresser.

          I have straight hair and if I’m pulling it back for a special occassion, I will curl it first and then pull it back so the part that’s usually flat against my head has some body and interest.

        • Thirded. You were right to fire that hairdresser. I love the “ridges.”

          My hair is wavy and fine, so when I pull it back, it will often lay flat against my head, but produce a ponytail with some curl to it. I have been leaving in “ridges” on purpose these days.

          My ponytail often is One Big Curl, a la poodle skirt and sock hop. Does anyone else’s do this? For this reason, I don’t usually wear ponytails at work.

  7. Professional hair is hair that is clean, combed, and not in an extreme (for work) style or color. Straight, curly, or anything else is irrelevant. For an interview, style your hair in a way that helps you feel poised and confident–that is what employers will notice.

  8. Kat, curly hair is often a lot drier than straight hair. As your hair has gotten curlier, it may have gotten drier as well, which could be why it looks different depending on the weather. If you think this may be the case, I’d suggest switching to sulfate-free shampoo and using 2 conditioners (I use an organic one that goes with my shampoo plus a spray-in from the Frizz Ease line). I also deep condition once a week or so, which makes my curls fall out when it dries but improves the overall health of my hair (make sure you do it the first time on a day when you don’t care what your hair looks like), and I put oil in my hair as needed, usually only in the winter (I have some old Aveda product with rice bran oil, but plain old olive oil works fine). Since I stopped using products that strip my hair of its natural oil, I’ve found that it more consistently looks the same every day and is not as influenced by the weather. It took about 3 weeks of using sulfate-free shampoo to see a difference.

    • bibliophile :

      Seconding the sulfate-free advice. Sulfate-free shampoo definitely makes a difference in my ends. I have fine wavy/curly hair and I notice that I can go longer between hair cuts using the sulfate-free because ends hair don’t get super dry or split as quickly (in fact hardly at all compared to using “normal” shampoo).

      • For those who don’t want to go sulfate-free, I use the Garnier shampoo version for dry/damaged hair. I wash my hair every morning, and frequently in the evening as well (due to 2x daily workouts) and my hair is naturally dry – but this shampoo doesn’t dry it out at all!

        • This is what I used to use before switching – I agree that it’s pretty good, but it still left my hair too dry.

          I tried the Garnier Triple Nutrition for a while, but it left my hair oddly greasy.

      • Anonylawyer :

        I agree – go sulfate free (and silicone free). is GREAT for products to try and for helping with the transition. Once you stop using sulfate shampoos, you’ll notice that your scalp gets a lot less greasy (at first it gets greasier to overcompensate, but after 2 weeks, you’ll start to see a difference) and your hair will stay more moist and will frizz less. The secret to curly hair is moisture. That means, don’t shampoo with sulfate shampoo, only occasionally shampoo at all (mainly “conditioner wash” with a light, silicone-free conditioner such as Suave Naturals or V05 moisture milks. If you must shampoo, use a coco beteine cleanser like Burt’s Bees Baby Shampoo), and condition, condition, condition.

    • Eponine what do you use for deep condish?
      I am using a MAtrix conditioner and just leave it extra time.
      I want to start deep conditioning but have no idea what products to use.

      • So right now I am using the deep conditioner that comes with my bottle of gray-covering L’Oreal Preference dye. But I used to use one by The Body Shop, it was made from Brazil nut and came in a little jar, and I liked that too. I also like Garnier’s Sleek and Shine Fortifying Deep Conditioner, but not as much as The Body Shop one. My top recommendation is Bumble and Bumble’s curl conscious nourishing masque, but I don’t want to spend that much money (it costs like $30). I like all of the Curl Conscious line, but except for the styling creme, I don’t think it’s so much better that it’s worth the price.

        The best thing for my hair, although I don’t have the patience for it, is to heat up some olive oil, massage it in, wrap my hair and leave it overnight. If I do that monthly, I’m good. Of course, I haven’t done it in a couple years, because I’m lazy :).

        • I’ll try the olive oil because we have extra virgin here so it will be easier to shop for it.

          • Coconut oil also works well but I find that the smell lingers. And actually the Garnier deep conditioner says it has argan oil from Morocco!

            Make sure you don’t use too much oil – I use about half a cup (about 120 ML) for my below-the-shoulders hair. Also be forewarned that it will leave oil stains in whatever you wrap your head in. Also, if I am having a particularly dry hair day, I’ll take a drop or two of olive oil and spread it through my hair; it works great to moisturize without looking greasy.

          • Curl Friend :

            Olive oil is supposed to work because it can actually penetrate the hair (not all oils can). There was an article on a site called The Beauty Brains that compared olive oil, coconut oil, and the palm oil (?) that is in a product line called Ojon.

        • You might like the Kiehl’s olive oil hair masque – you just leave it in for 5-10 minutes or so in the shower. It definitely does some deep conditioning for my wavy hair.

          • Oh, I might have to try it. I like Kiehl’s, and this sounds much easier for a lazy person like me.

    • The is exactly right. Once I started using leave-in conditioner as my lone styling product, my hair looked SO much better. I really think what curly hair needs to look good most is a lot lot lot of moisture.

  9. Of course curly hair is professional. Others have already pointed out that the question is depressing not only in gendered terms, but also in ethnic ones. At any rate, Kat’s point about time-efficiency trumps all, I think. It’s professional to take care of your appearance while also spending the great majority of your time doing other things.

    I’ve been posting lately on my own adventures in embracing my naturally curly hair, but I’ll reiterate! I actually took me a very short time to find a system that works, every single day–and I only wash my hair every other day, so we’re also talking about acceptable second day curls! There is hope.

    –A brand called “Use Me” makes an amazing moisturizer that you use in the shower. You rinse it out with a cold blast at the end for best results. Then I use their curl creme, and twist my hair, and it dries without any hint of product being visible (or feel-able) and my curls last for at least 2 days. Here’s the brand–it’s not available in too many salons: My hair is naturally very fine and brittle, so I feel like if this works for me, it must be miracle potion. Bonus points for the great smell (which goes away as it dries).
    –On the issue of taking forever to dry: a fellow corporette suggested a microfiber towel, and sure enough it has changed my life. I twist it around my head upon getting out of the shower, and leave it on all the way through my makeup and dressing. My hair is almost dry by that point, which is when I apply the creme. After 20-30 min my hair is a little damp, but doesn’t really look it. I’m comfortable going to work like that; for an invterview I’d make sure it was 100% dry.
    –On the second day, if any areas are looking limp or messy, I spray water on those parts and re-apply a small amount of creme, and then twist. It works even more quickly when the hair is not sopping from the shower.
    –I found that my classic ponytail, from the days of flatironing, now looked like an asymmetrical mess. (I like to part my hair on the side.) I shouldn’t care, but I did. Thus far my solution has been…to start wearing it on the side! Low, of course, with a barrette. I rocked it with a button-up and pencil skirt yesterday and didn’t even feel I was “pushing it.” For an interview I’d probably do half-up. Finally, FWIW, I think that wearing hair down when it’s curly, at least on me, actually looks more intentional than when I had it straight. It feels more like an actual style.

    • Betty White :

      Totally agree on the ethnic issues raised. Goes back to the idea that “straight, white-woman hair” is the norm and everyone else should just conform. Rubs me the wrong way.

      • Curl Friend :

        Absolutely. That’s why it’s insulting for me as a black woman to be lectured by a white woman (another commenter here) on how it’s no big deal, I should buck up if people don’t like my hair in professional and social settings.

        It’s all very nice to say that you shouldn’t care about what other people think, but when the attitudes are widespread, many of the people with the offensive views are considered decent (what they profess in public is not what they think) and it’s affecting you, it’s not so easy to ignore. I have lived in some of the most liberal cities of the United States and encountered these attitudes. I don’t see that they’re going away anytime soon.

        Mind you, I wear my hair naturally curly, and it hasn’t always been easy. But I want to develop easier, attractive, professional styles for myself and other girls and women with hair like mine. I have contributed many suggestions to this thread about products and hair care so other people won’t have to spend as much time figuring out something as basic as how to style their hair.

        But being a black woman and having curly/kinky hair, especially in a corporate setting, is in NO WAY comparable to having Caucasian hair that’s say, flat or thin or an unappealing color.

  10. Threadjack: Need gift suggestions for a judge! I’m wrapping up a two year clerkship in August and would like to get a small gift for my boss. I know he wouldn’t want me to spend a lot of money, so I just need something that is a token of my appreciation for the great experience. I’ve already considered a nice bottle of wine as my back up gift. Any other suggestions?

    (The city I am located in is what some might consider the “boonies,” so I don’t have a lot of shopping options. Online shopping is my best friend.)

    • What about a gift certificate to a nice restaurant, coupled with a bottle of wine? Or, just in general, something to pair the wine with? i.e. cheese?

    • Another Anonymous :

      How about a framed photo of you and your judge, along with a bottle of wine? My judge has hundreds of framed photos of himself with former clerks, and I think he would love something like.

    • May it please the Court :

      How about a book that he doesn’t already have? I really like my copy of “May It Please The Court” — it came with cassettes of famous oral arguments (I assume now it comes with CDs).

  11. I think along with NOT wet, curly hair must also be NEAT. Mine is somewhere between (and sometimes a combination of) curly, wavey, and straight naturally, which is great and bedheady for dates but, alas, hard for the office because it looks messy unless I intentionally tame it with a curling iron to make it more uniform. However, it sounds like yours is not the mess of a mane that I have but rather that fabulous uniformly curly (and thanks to product, non-frizzy) long hair that women around the world covet…. in which case, by all means wear it “naturally,” particularly if it’s the way you wear your hair on a daily basis. If yours is more like mine and you wear it straight for more formal occasions (say, to court or similar), then straighten it for the interview.

    Hope this is at least vaguely helpful.

  12. Hair texture is like skin color: Things you can’t change really can’t be classified as “unprofessional.” You were born this way!

    • Co-sign. And if people don’t think my texture is professional, I probably don’t want to be working with them. Sometimes you can/should be choosy about what abuse you are willing to take.

    • Barrister in the Bayou :


      Also, I may not be in the majority with this, but because of the texture of my hair and the shape of my face I think I look better with long hair, like past my bra strap hair… I refuse to cut it. I pull it back to go to court, but its there… long and curly!

      • I think that’s fine so long as your hair is well cared for. When I see a woman with long hair that’s clearly damaged and frizzy for the bottom 8 inches, with no style or body to it, I cringe and just want to take her to the nearest beauty salon for a big chop.

        IMO super long hair is where length starts to be a problem on its own – like to your waist. Mid-back is just on the longer side of average.

        • Barrister in the Bayou :

          I just remember a while back ago some people commented about getting their “big-girl” hair cuts so they would be taken more seriously (a.k.a look older) and it made me a bit sad. I have long hair and freckles so I can look rather young, but once people start having a conversation with me it becomes clear that I am not playing at being a grown up. I just get so frustrated that we even have to consider these things, and the line “well that’s just the way it is” really ticks me off.

          Well cared for should apply to all hair, not just curly. Also well cared for can be somewhat subjective. I think its just as unprofessional when someone flatirons their hair w/in an inch of its existence (so that it has split ends everywhere). Or when someone bleaches it blonde but then has months of dark growth.

          And I do work hard to make sure my hair looks good. I use good shampoo, and deep condition weekly. I have highlights but I make sure that I get trims frequently enough so that I don’t get split ends and I’m not afraid to chop off 6in if it means getting rid of hair that’s starting to look a little dull.

          Not an attack, not trying to be snarky… I guess this is just a touchy subject for me.

          • Maybe reread my comment? Because I actually said that your hair length is fine, and you seem to have perceived a slight.

    • Research, not Law :


    • Curl Friend :

      It’s not that simple. For example, if you have really bad acne, which, despite all your efforts you cannot get rid of, some employers might not hire you for a job in which appearance was deemed important, or it might limit your advancement.

      If we all felt we could just be ourselves (maybe with a little sprucing up) and things would be fine we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I’d much rather focus on how to fix a problem, such as working to make curly styles more common and thus acceptable, than pretending the problem doesn’t exist.

      I can’t believe this is still an issue either.

  13. Honestly, I don’t feel like I look as polished and professional when I wear my hair curly, so I save my curls for office-only days. I would not be comfortable wearing my curls to court, a job interview, or a client meeting. (That does not mean I am judging anyone else’s professionalism by the curliness of their hair.)

    I think it’s partly a control issue. The front never looks great, so I have to use some kind of clip to pull it back. Also, my curls might look great when I leave the house and start drooping within an hour. My straight hair is much more reliable.

    • Thank you for saying what I meant much more clearly than I did ;).

    • I agree. I have very curly, thick, kinky hair – I do not think it looks polished at all and for interviews or important meetings I have it professionally straightened (it’s too thick for me to do it myself.)

      I recently had it cut into a pixie and feel a little better about it, but it’s still very difficult to manage – it seems to defy all anti-frizz product.

      I agree that it sucks that this is an issue, but to deny it’s an issue is ridiculous. It IS perceived as less professional.

      • Anonylawyer :

        Part of the issue is how you refer to it. “Kinky” is such a negative word. I used to feel the same way and destroyed my hair with Thermal Reconditioning. It started breaking and I read about hair and learned that it was hard to manage and defined anti-frizz products because it was dry and damaged. I let it grow, dealt with two textures and babied the growing curls with conditioner. After 15 months, I got a short, curly haircut and took the Curly Girl path – no shampoo, no silicone, lots of conditioner, silicone-free hair gel and my hair is so manageable – 1000 times more manageable than straightening and blow-frying it.

        If anyone thinks I look unprofessional because my hair curls and I refuse to destroy it with chemicals and/or a hair dryer, I don’t want to work wtih them anyway. Beautiful, well taken care of hair is always professional.

        • Curl Friend :

          Not everyone thinks the word “kinky” is negative.* As you may know, there are product lines called things like “Kinky Curly.” To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I tend to use the term kinky, or kinky curly, to make clear what kind of hair I’m talking about when “curly” is imprecise. Nobody really has a problem with a little wave or Botticelli ringlets.

          Of course, hair that’s well nicely groomed should be a non-issue. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Most of the black women law partners I’m aware of (not that I can actually picture that many) have relaxed or very short hair. I’m sure they’re very conscious of image.

          A few years ago, a blogger for “Glamour” actually told black women (summer?) associates at Cleary Gottlieb that natural styles were too “political.” It caused an uproar. But those attitudes haven’t necessarily faded.

          *I once heard a really lovely African American woman, very smart, and usually very refined, refer to her “N-word naps.” (She used the word. Now THAT was negative. :- ) )

    • If the wearer feels unprofessional, don’t wear it that way. Wear your hair however you feel most confident.

  14. Another Perspective :

    I’d reconsider your idea about getting your judge a gift. It is almost certain to be an awkward situation for him, no matter what gift you decide on. If you would be comfortable taking him to lunch, that would be fine. Otherwise, make sure he knows how much you valued your experience working with him – tell him that and write him a letter after you leave, but I’d suggest no gift.

    • I tend to disagree. I clerked for 2 federal judges and always left with something (and still give them an edible arrangements for holidays/bdays). I think your gift should reflect your relationship. My judges were mentors that really cared about me, my family, and my career.

      I did get one Brooks Brothers US-coin-like cufflinks. You know government style. Loved them! (Him, not me. Well, I did too lol.)

      • Have you considered a small, edible gift (i.e. wine), a nice note, and a donation to a charity to which he/she would feel an attachment? I think many of us “of a certain age” don’t want more stuff in our lives. We prefer to know that we make a difference in the world.

  15. In a recent discussion on Twitter, I explained the following to several young woman. Some of us, from the generation before blowouts became de rigueur, find the universal stick straight look to indicate youthfulness, and a certain follow the herd mentality. Curls are a good thing, managed, just as one manages every kind of hair for the workplace.

    • This is an interesting point. I was in high school and college during the 1980s-1990s and big “Jersey” hair was de rigueur. The curly girls could manage this much better than me, with my straight, fine, rather limp hair. So I’m not entirely sure how things were in the workplace, but I imagine a woman with curly hair would have been much more in style and with the norm. I might have been chastised for being unprofessional with my sad limp hair that totally would not do the feathered thing!

  16. Waiting waiting :

    For those of you in biglaw, how long does it typically take to get back to a lateral candidate after an interview? I interviewed last Friday, sent thank you notes over the weekend, and am now …. waiting. Obviously, it’s only been 2 business days so I should probably just chill, but I’d love to hear thoughts on when someone should expect to hear back.

  17. My hair is curly, thick and almost down to my bra-strap w/highlights and long layers. I wash at night using a sulfate free shampoo and conditioner, put it up in one of those absorbent turban/towels for about 15 minutes, then apply a combination of wen styling creme and carol’s daughter’s mimosa honey mask (just a smidge). I then make sure it has a little bump for volume at the top (either with styling clips or just pulling the hair up a bit) and pull it back in either two low pigtails or one low pony tail. I sleep on it this way and then the next morning I take it a couple of lengths at a time and with a curling iron just even out the curls if I have some crazy ones or if I have some that have decided to be straight. Then I put a little more styling cream in, running my fingers through my hair and I’m done. If I don’t get sweaty or stinky, I can go for DAYS without washing and wen makes a great styling / revitalizing mist which smells wonderful and gives it just a bit of oomph. It’s funny because by the end my hair is usually more wavy than curly (kinda like beach hair) and I get tons of compliments on it even though I haven’t washed my hair in days.

  18. Any suggestions for those of us with semi-wavy (not curly) hair? My natural hair texture is straight and flat on top and then soft and not well defined waves starting around my jaw line. However, the back “third” of my hair (the part that covers my neck) is straight as a stick. I wear my hair past my shoulders so my solution is to blow dry it daily with a bit of smoothing product and wear it down. I am very lucky in that my hair is thick and therefore after the blow dry and a little bit of hairspray my hair looks straight-ish (although not flat iron straight) and has volume.

    However, my hair dresser has told me a million times not to 1.) wash my hair every day and 2.) not to blow dry every day, both of which I do Monday-Friday. I feel the need to wash my hair in the mornings as I work out before work (running) and I am feel way to sweaty not to wash my hair. I’ve tried (on the weekend) just rinsing it in the shower and not using shampoo but it drys very flat and clumpy. Washing my hair automatically leads to blow drying it (see — no wet hair at work).

    Any other corporettes with my hair type who have any alternatives?

    • I used to have much dryer hair then I do now*, and I would often skip the wash but just condition it. That might help for you.

      * When I started dating my husband, I suddenly had to wash my hair every day. Yeah, I don’t understand it either- I’d never had that response to being in any other relationship. But so it goes.

    • Curl Friend :

      Buy “Curly Hair: The Handbook.” It discusses care for wavy hair.

    • Switch to a gentler shampoo (sulfate free is my recommendation) and a less damaging hair dryer. Add a heat protector spray (I like Aveda’s Brilliant) before blowdrying.

    • I used to have a similar problem, with unequal levels of curl. To solve this, I’ve stopped combing or brushing my hair completely. I finger-comb through my hair in the shower to de-tangle while my conditioner is in. I then rinse the conditioner out, but don’t touch the curls. This has worked great for a consistent curl all around.

  19. Ouidad Convert :

    After being told by a consultant hired by my company to provide sales training that my hair was unprofessional and all anyone would remember about me was my unruly hair, I invested in a hair dryer and straightener and went about fighting my curls. My naturally beautuful hair looked decidedly average and was generally tyed back to avoid my “straight” hair from frizzing up.
    3 months ago I visited the Ouidad salon in New York, a haven for curly hair I got an amazing cut and a lesson on embracing my curls and styling them with ease. (1) a spray of Botanical Boost (2) the (amazing) “rake & shake” technique using Climate Control Heat & Humidity Gel (3) Air dry (or blowdry with defuser) (4) three drops of the Shine Glaze Serum over the surface once dry to get rid of any crunch.
    I cannot recommend the Ouidad salon, the “rake & shake” technique and Ouidad products highly enough. I have not straightened my hair since, and in the height of a humid NYC summer, have frizz-free beautiful curls.

    • The first part of your story makes me so sad, especially because I got the same advice as a law student.

      • I got it from my boss

        • That is so not okay. If I remember correctly, you cut your hair into one of those bouncy, fun, shorter styles, right? That look is so great and unique and can very much come across as professional and put-together, yet fun. I know you are not in law but it may be helpful to hear that I just met an amazing attorney who is in her late 30’s. She has done some incredible stuff and is very well respected. She has a similar hair cut and it makes her stand out and let’s people know that she’s confident in who she is, knows who she is (fun, vivacious), and embraces it.

          • Well, I took the plunge because of the positive encouraging words I got from corporettes. I do not regret it, though I hope my manager could change her opinion about straight-hair-no-matter-what.

        • Ugh, some things just never change. It’s especially annoying to hear that stick-straight hair isn’t just the standard of beauty in majority-white North America, but also in an African, mostly Arab country where I’m sure the majority of women do not have straight hair. Sorry this happened to you.

  20. I do not have curly hair, but instead serious curl envy. I think curly hair is so lovely!

    For those who do like to straighten for interviews, an observation: I had a friend in law school who had great curly hair, but always got a blow out for interviews. Her haircut really worked for her face when it was curly, but did absolutely nothing for her when it was straight. If anything, she looked way less professional because it looked like she had a crappy haircut. So if you are one to straighten your hair, make sure your haircut is good for that.

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